Fill Your Easter Basket with Web-based Storytelling Tools

Storytelling tools continue to emerge on the Internet at a rapid pace. On this Easter day, I bring you a roundup of them:

    • whirrl has generated significant buzz in the blogosphere and twitterverse. This tool, currently in beta, is a “storytelling application for the web and mobile that lets people share and remember their real-world stories as they happen.” Whrrl’s Community Manager Erin Crabb writes: “Whrrl allows you to share what you’re doing, who you’re with and where you’re at, with rich content, as it’s happening.” You can find reviews at TechZulu and GPS Obsessed, as well as read an interview Jeff Holden, founder of Pelago, the company that created whrrl
    • Tumbarumba is an extension for the Firefox Web browser that “hides stories–twelve new stories by outstanding authors–where you least expect to find them, turning your everyday web browsing into a strange journey.” Hard to see how this tool is useful, but it’s intriguing.
    • MakeBeliefsComix is described as a “place for you to come to and have fun by creating your own world of comic strips.” Interestingly, creator Bill Zimmerman targets the site at diverse demographics: “those wanting a few minutes of fun; youngsters and their parents; students and teachers; business executives trying to unwind from the stress of work, and activities directors and social workers who try to help people express their deepest thoughts and feelings.” Zimmerman says his intent is “that you will regard this site as a safe place where you feel empowered to create and to test new ideas and ways to communicate through art and writing.”
    • Storybird is “Collaborative storytelling for families and friends,” but it hasn’t gone public yet and invites visitors to submit an e-mail address so they can be alerted when the site does go public.
    • MapSkip asserts that “places have stories” and describes itself as a site that “makes the world a canvas for our stories and photos.” Those who join the MapSkip community are told they can explore “the world through shared stories and pictures about all the places in our lives.” One cool (slightly stalker-ish) feature is that MapSkip knows the location from which you’re visiting the site. I was slightly unnerved to see a map of my city of DeLand, FL, on the MapSkip home page.
    • Also place-oriented is Datascape, “a social geographic storytelling platform that enables artists, researchers, community groups and others to narrate their communities and physical spaces through interactive virtual worlds that are laid on top of the physical world.” Says its creator, Eric Kabisch: “We are developing software and devices to create and explore these narrratives through a vehicle-based virtual periscope, a gallery-based installation, and mobile phone and web applications. Our research goals are to explore the opportunities for spatial narrative that can be offered by a system like Datascape, to understand the interactional consequences of different configurations and manifestations of the system, and to examine the range and use of community-authored narratives and how they can make legible digital/physical spaces.” Kabisch seeks brief expressions of interest outlining the issue, data, story or experience users would like to convey and asks for e-mails. I don’t grasp Datascape or how it is story-related, but maybe others can make more sense of Datascape’s documentation video than I can. It reminds me of futuristic films in which the starship’s computer has a (sort of) human voice:

  • Empressr is a “rich media presentation tool” with which user can “tell your story anyway you like. Add photos, music, video, and audio, and share it publicly or privately in an instant.” A significant aspect of Empressr is that it’s “a way for anyone to create rich media presentations without having to be a technology expert.” The result, the creators say, “is the first free online visual storytelling and presentation rich internet application.” I really like the way Empressr enables attractive, full-screen presentations stored and watchable on the Web. I’d love to test it to see if it’s as easy to use as the creators say.
  • LifeSnapz is LifeSnapz is “a free, easy and secure way for people to record and organize important events, milestones and memories in their lives,” says its site. “Users of LifeSnapz can contribute text, photos, and video to describe these events, share them with self-designated groups (like family members, colleagues, schoolmates or youth sports teams) and explore these events using dynamic timelines, maps, and lists.”
  • With bookr, users can create and share photobooks using flickr images. The site is short on documentation and has no About page (as well as a lot of type so tiny it’s illegible), so it’s hard to know exactly how to use bookr.
  • Despite its name, Storyblender isn’t especially story-oriented and is kind of goofy. The idea is to take a photo, record a voice to go with it, and superimpose an animated mouth so the photo appears to be talking. One really does wonder how people come up with these ideas. Some applications seem like the product of people with too much time on their hands.
  • Penzu, its creators say, was created out of a need “why isn’t there an easy way for me to keep my thoughts on the web?” They contend that “every journal or diary service is extremely confusing and complex: long sign-up processes, intertwined with blogging services, and most importantly it took a long time to get writing. All of these lackluster sites made it an obvious decision to start Penzu,” which they assert is “intuitive, fast, and accessible” for keeping a personal journal or diary.”
  • Finally, Smilebox blows my mind for a couple of reasons. It’s actually not Web-based but a downloadable application that, amazingly, is free and available for both Mac and PC. The product could best be described as digital scrapbook pages. “Smilebox makes it easy for … users to share photos, videos and music in minutes,” the site says. “Story” is not even mentioned on the site; yet, Smilebox strikes me as every bit the storytelling tool as others in this roundup, and it offers a vast variety of designs to get the user started. I’m interested in using it for the family-history Web sites I’m working on.